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Author: Tommaso Maiandi

The last few months have been extremely intense for Pharmaceutical Companies, especially Pfizer and Moderna, since both companies have recently announced possible vaccines against COVID-19, proving them to be 95% effective. These two companies have gone through an extensive period of research and development, which will be followed by the most challenging phase: the large-scale distribution of their vaccines all over the globe. Blockchain Technology might be a crucial player in this process by ensuring product safety and efficiency in its distribution to the public, so how can it be applied?

The process of developing and mass-producing a vaccine usually takes years due to long quality controls and monitoring of its efficacy. The path to mass production of such a delicate product goes through 5 steps, each of which can be made faster and safer by blockchain, whose main characteristics are transparency, resilience and immutability. In the research phase, it can be used to give tamper-proof evidence of efficiency (or inefficiency) of a potential vaccine; then, in the pre-clinical phase, the reliable shared blockchain ledger can lay a base for collaboration between firms which can share their findings. Furthermore, in the testing phase, blockchain provides quick and trusted information about the consent of volunteers and results, which can be sent to the regulatory institution in charge of approving the vaccine which will, in turn, use the technology to actively monitor clinical trials. At the end of the process, blockchain can make the distribution phase more efficient and reduce counterfeiting problems, increasing consumers’ trust.

At the beginning of December, the UK became the first western country to use the Pfizer vaccine on the most vulnerable part of its population and a long list of other nations is starting to do the same. This means that the urgency for effective distribution methods is high and that we have reached the last phase of the process I described in the previous paragraph. A study revealed that 77% of Americans are concerned about the safety of vaccines, pushing towards the need for transparency. IBM Blockchain has thought about a distribution network which can enhance response to supply chain disruptions and safety monitoring, consequently increasing public confidence. The main benefits brought by blockchain-backed distribution are three. The first one is end-to-end traceability, which can provide real-time visibility of the vaccine’s spread and will eliminate blind spots across public and private entities. Reduced risk is the second advantage since preemptive detection of interruptions in the supply chain will make the response to unexpected events faster. The third and last benefit is safety and efficacy assurance, which, by using environmental monitoring of transport and storage conditions, will help ensure efficacy and build trust[2].

In July 2020, technology company Chronicled, based in San Francisco, which controls MediLedger (a decentralized network that connects trading partners without allowing leaks of private information) reported that the network’s product verification system, which runs on blockchain, is optimal to fight counterfeiting. The verification process works through a barcode scan that validates product data against the original manufacturer’s data, proving that the product has not been replaced or falsified.

The World Economic Forum itself has defined COVID-19 vaccine’s distribution as one of the greatest challenges for traditional supply chains since those ones are at the mercy of bottlenecks, control issues, theft and counterfeiting. Since blockchain helps to overcome these obstacles with the benefits that I previously described, the WEF has come to state that blockchain is going to be essential for an equitable vaccine distribution, as vaccine access will strongly depend on an information system with the highest possible integrity[3].

The international organization has clearly stated that this innovative technology is needed to ensure the most convenient supply chain in this extreme emergency. With every vaccine monitored over the blockchain, each link of the supply chain can track the entire process. Manufacturers will be able to track the punctuality of shipments, distributors will provide a better working delivery tracking platform which will include storage requirements verifications and would be the first one to notify any disruption. Moreover, hospitals and clinics will be able to better manage their stocks and to get guarantees concerning vaccine’s authenticity. Finally, individuals will have an identical guarantee for their own vaccine[4].

As the first countries are starting to implement the vaccine, it is still not clear whether traditionally managed supply chains will succeed in such a large-scale and quick delivery. Blockchain has been proven to make the process faster and safer and, if all players take part in the solution that this innovative technology brings, the return to a normal world is closer than we think.

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